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Miners and social character: a case study of a face team in mining, the work group and their social relationships

Walter, M Allen


M Allen Walter


In this thesis I present an interpretation of the social situation of a face team in coal mining. My central theoretical focus is the idea of social character, as elaborated most extensively in the work of Erich Fromm. The relationship of social character to the wider institutional order and social structure generally is presented through the use of certain elements of Gerth and Mills' work in "Character and Social Struc­ture". This theoretical, sociological framework provides a number of institutional orders for consideration; the economic, the political, the kinship and the religious. Within this framework, discussion is provided on various dimensions of social character as exampled in mining.
Further theoretical arguments are presented in each chapter. It is obviously not possible to discuss all the vast relevant literature in full detail; I use it selectively to extend the interpretation within the theoretical considerations defined above. Whilst the theoretical back­ground to this study is derivative, my claim for originality is the particu­lar collection and juxtaposition of these ideas. I have carried out qualitative empirical work which I present within this theoretical frame­work. I argue that the presentation of this combination of theoretical and empirical material gives a new basis for understanding the social position of a face team in a local coalfield today. It would be possible to generalise beyond this particular case, but to do so would be to neglect the idiographic nature of the evidence presented.
The empirical grounding for the work is provided by an intensive case study approach which utilises a view of social character as both creative and innovative. It may act either as a stabilising or as a de­stabilising factor in social situations. Social character provides, therefore, a possible interpretive view of both the reproduction and the transformation of social structure, exemplified in the social relation­ships of the work group of a face team in mining today.
Considerable attention is paid to an attempt to synthesise the work of Gerth and Mills and Erich Frorrm. I discuss both the institutional orders and their relationship to social character and the relationship of Freud and Marx to Fromm. From this I develop a particular view of critical theory, ideology, culture and rationality. This is pursued through the works of Habermas on instnnnental action and, more briefly, of Lucien Seve on Marxist theory and the psychology of personality.
The final part of the thesis incorporates some of these theoretical insights in examining empirical data on miners at work, the union committee and social character, which is in turn related to relationships with wives and families, and the negotiation of social boundaries. The concluding section seeks tentatively to weigh the heuristic value of social character as a concept.

Publication Date Jan 1, 1986

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